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Suzan Davis Atkison

Weekly Clinician 

Winner of the 2016 Oregon Dressage Society Instructor of the Year Award


Certified by the British Horse Society and an FEI rider — the highest level of our sport — Suzan is a master trainer of equine and equestrian development, including the invaluable skills of ground work, long-lining, and in-hand work.

Suzan grew up on the back of a horse. Her experiences in horse training, competing, and teaching, both as a teenager and young adult, fueled her interest to become a certified professional instructor and trainer. Suzan made the decision to move to Europe to further her education and attended Curland Equestrian Enterprises where she trained and passed two separate certifications through the British Horse Society — the HorseMasters and Instructors degrees. After completing her training and passing all exams, Suzan moved back home to California, where she had the wonderful opportunity to continue her education through the years with various national and international top trainers such as:

· Olympic Coach, Melle Von Brugen
· Olympic Event Rider for Britain, Mary Hunter
· Olympic Dressage Rider and Judge, Hilda Gurney
· Olympic Rider for Spain, Juan Matute
· Olympic Rider and Coach, Sandy Pfleuger-Phillips
· FEI Rider, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker
· Author and Trainer, Mary Wanless
· Classical Dressage Trainer from Portugal, Vitor Silva
· Author and Trainer, Sylvia Loch
· Major Anders Lundgren


Suzan's Training Philosophy

Based on over 40 years of professional experience in the teaching and training of horses and riders — beginning with that moment of starting a young horse and continuing all the way up to the FEI levels — Suzan is a trainer who has the unique ability to create a harmonious working partnership between her students and their horses. She reads the horse, listens to the rider, and quickly assesses what is needed. Her understanding of both equine and human biomechanics results in suppleness, throughness, and ultimately deep relaxation, giving expressive beauty to each horse. Suzan is also a true master in the art of long-lining and all related in-hand techniques, employing these to produce excellent dressage movement, all the way to the training of piaffe and passage. Everyone who has participated in Suzan’s training program has quickly come to appreciate how her integrative approach can offer enormous benefits to every rider and every horse, regardless of breed, history, equestrian discipline, or level of expertise. Focusing on the essential elements of equine development, Suzan has helped us reach, with swiftness and joy, a remarkable level of achievement with all of our horses.

In every aspect of her work, the most important component in Suzan’s philosophy is the relationship and communication between the horse and rider, with strong emphasis on biomechanics. Suzan focuses on allowing, rather than forcing. If something in a horse or rider isn’t moving in a forward and fluid way, Suzan teaches us to both see (on the long-lines) and feel (under saddle) where and how the movement is being impeded. Once the impediments to fluid movement are identified, Suzan teaches us to find the specific forms of exercise, both on the lines and under saddle, that allow the horse and rider to move with balance, energy, and ease.

Suzan has taught us that ground work and long-lining are crucial in this approach to training, because they enable us to see the difference between balance and imbalance in our horses’ movements. That way, we can more easily identify what kind of exercises will be effective in restoring balance and fluidity to our horses. In addition, long-lining allows a horse to move in this balanced way (which is often a new way of going for the horse), without the burden of a rider on its back during the initial period of adjustment and conditioning.

Once Suzan has taught us how to use our long-lining aids to achieve balance and forward fluidity in our horses, she has shown us that it is relatively easy to translate those aids into their counterparts in the saddle — long-lines translating to hands, and voice and lunge-whip translating to seat and legs.


We have found that the combination of seeing these changes on the ground, and feeling these improvements under saddle, has greatly accelerated and improved the progress that we and our horses have made. Best of all, Suzan’s approach allows us and our horses to progress with a deep sense of allowing, rather than resorting to the techniques of force that have become so common in many forms of equestrian training.

Suzan’s years of experience have given her the opportunity to train horses and educate students to the path of winning numerous Regional, National, All Breed and World Championships in the disciplines of Dressage, Hunter/Jumpers, and Eventing.


Janna Peterson Photography

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